Punk-rock legends Dropkick Murphys will kick off their annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities with a tour of the Midwest before touching back down in their hometown of Boston for an annual gig — or gigs — on the Irish holiday. Always on the road, it seems, the band celebrates with its town and its people every year.
“It’s been 16 years since we’ve had a break like that, got to spend some time with the wife and kids,” frontman Al Barr said. “The only problem now is that we have to remember how to play these songs.”
In addition to being the vocalist for the seven-piece Irish folk-punk band, Barr is a father of three with an improbably solid un-rock ’n’ roll marriage of more than 20 years. The band took a luxurious four-month break to stretch its legs before kicking off in Cleveland on February 18. Joining the Murphys on this leg of the tour are veteran Memphis folk-punk band Lucero and newcomers Skinny Lister from England.
St. Patrick’s Day for the band has evolved into a solid week of sold-out shows; the rowdy celebration of all things Irish has become a tradition.
“The St. Paddy’s Day tour has always been about the older stuff,” Barr said, “the b-sides, the album tracks, always for the fans.”
But then again, pretty much everything that the Murphys do — especially where Barr is concerned — is for the fans. Since its start almost 20 years ago, the band has established itself by playing and touring constantly. It is often referred to as a party band, which goes hand in hand with its punk-rock image and raucous, exuberant sound.
“You know, if you can party every night and still play well the next day and really give your fans their money’s worth, power to you,” Barr said. “But it’s not about partying; it’s about giving your fans the best time they can have.”
It’s clear that this hard-work ethos is stitched into the band’s makeup and is at least partly the reason it has the fans it does.
Barr remembers fondly the moment he realized they had girl fans.
“I think it was with (third studio album) Sing Loud, Sing Proud,” he said, “And we looked out in the audience and said, ‘Oh my god! There’s actually girls here!’” He thinks this also has to do with the changes in music in general, moving away from fans being devoted to only one genre of music.
What started as a scrappy, thrown-together punk outfit with notions of incorporating Irish folk into its sound has grown into a successful Irish folk band with roots in pure DIY punk rock and fans all over the world. It’s impressive for a band that got its start with a taped recording of bagpipes the sound guy would play over the P.A. of whatever little dive the band was performing in.
“It was very Napoleon Dynamite,” he said. “It was all so rinky-dink. We would hand this tape to the sound guy and ask him to play it at a certain point and then launch into ‘Do or Die.’” The band had the good fortune to be able to find musicians who played what the band members refer to as “the wacky instruments” (bagpipes, mandolin, tin-whistle) in the studio. That played a huge part in establishing the signature Murphys sound. The incorporation of those instruments was always something the band envisioned working into its live sets, but it was logistically impossible 16 years ago.
The transition into the seven-piece band the Murphys are today was, according to Barr, “a really long process.”
“I think we took the better part of about two years just getting the accordion to sound good on stage,” he said. “I think we also went through about 16 accordions.”
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